There is a good chance that you are one of the many Christians who don’t fast or rarely do so. This is not because we don’t have the time or desire to fast. It’s just that we never get around to putting down the fork.
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Food is so readily available that people eat even when they don’t feel like it. We eat because we want to share a meal, build or grow relationships (good reasons), and distract from our responsibility.
There are also our own comfort needs and cravings that keep us from fasting.
Why should we fast?
Why do people fast? Fasting is popular for weight loss and other purported health advantages. However, people and groups used to fast in ancient times to express their devotion to God, show their sorrow at a particular situation, or support a cause.
We have compiled ten reasons to fast biblically.
- To increase prayer (e.g., Ezra 8:32).
- For God’s guidance (see Judges 20:26).
- To express grief (e.g., 1 Samuel 31:13).
- For information on how to seek deliverance and protection (e.g., 2 Chronicles 20.3 – 4).
- To repent and return to God (e.g., 1 Samuel 7:6).
- To humble yourself before God (e.g., 1 Kings 21.27 – 29).
- To express concern about the work of God (e.g., Nehemiah 1:3-4).
- To minister to others’ needs (e.g., Isaiah 58.3-7).
- To overcome temptation and give yourself to God (e.g., Matthew 4:1-11).
- To worship God and express love toward Him (e.g., Luke 2:37).
Christians who wish to fast can benefit from looking at other Bible passages where fasting was done. A simple internet search can bring up many resources for this topical study.
The prophet Isaiah offers us perhaps the clearest explanation and understanding of fasting as it is described in the Bible. Parts of Isaiah 58 (emphases mine) will be used as a framework to study why, how, and when Christians should fast.
“Cry aloud, spare not;Isaiah 58:1-2
Lift up your voice like a trumpet;
Tell My people their transgression,
And the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek Me daily,
And delight to know My ways,
As a nation that did righteousness,
And did not forsake the ordinance of their God.
They ask of Me the ordinances of justice;
They take delight in approaching God.
This shows that fasting can be used for many purposes: to seek God; to understand his ways; to find answers to life’s challenges, and to draw closer to God. These are all great goals for people whose hearts are right and their motivations are pure. Jesus said…
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30
God wants his people to come to him in every situation to seek his direction and guidance. Because he is more familiar with us than we are, he cares about us in every situation. David said the following truth in Psalm 139.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.Psalm 139:16
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
This is why Christians should turn to God for guidance. Fasting can intensify the intensity and urgency of this search during these times in our lives.
How Should We Fast?
When we decide to fast, the first thing to do is to do it out of a genuine desire to ask God for his guidance and direction. It is futile to fast for the sake of asking God for things that are not his will. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Let’s first look at the physical aspects and benefits of fasting. Fasting can take many forms and be done in many different ways. These are the most important things to remember when starting a fasting program:
Personal Reasons to Fast.
You can fast if you are at the edge of major life changes, grieving the loss, or seeking God’s guidance for a future decision. While it can be helpful to learn from others’ experiences, your decision to fast and your reasons for fasting are yours.
The Fasting Method You Want to Follow.
Fasting does not necessarily mean that you stop eating. You can reduce the number of calories you consume for a specific period. Many people find that the time and effort saved in preparing and eating food helps them focus on the problem. If you are distracted by the lack or quality of food while fasting, you can reduce your caloric intake and eat smaller amounts of food. Experts recommend that women consume 500 calories daily and men consume 600 calories daily when fasting this way.
The Duration for the Fast.
You can fast daily, weekly, or on an annual basis. People who fast intermittently do it to seek God during work hours. After that, they resume their regular eating habits. Some people find it beneficial to fast during certain times of the year or month to seek guidance and direction from God. You can decide the length and duration of your fast.
Focusing on the things you care about.
Fasting requires focusing on the purpose of your fast and listening to God throughout this time. To seek God’s face, you must eliminate all unnecessary activities from your calendar. Setting aside time during fasting for prayer and study is a good idea. The effectiveness of the fast can be increased by spending an overnight somewhere that is quiet and away from the noises and distractions of city life.
Your Physical Environment.
Fasting requires that you choose the right space. You can reduce the temptation to eat and sharpen your focus by setting aside space in your house or another space you are familiar with for prayer and meditation. During your fast, you can use that space to pray at the same time you normally eat. When you are able, take a walk, go for a drive or sit outside during meals.
Individuals in the Bible fasted over extended periods (see Matthew 4), but you should consult your doctor before fasting for more than twenty-four hours. Dehydration can occur, and other health problems may result if you have diabetes or other conditions requiring you to eat at certain times or monitor your sugar levels. You can stop fasting if you feel sick during your fast.
Breaking the fast.
Experts suggest you not feast after a fast but start slowly and eat regular portions. Although you might feel hungry or tempted to indulge after a fast period, the goal is to get back to normal eating habits.
It is not encouraged in Scripture that individuals fast to the detriment or health of their bodies. Individuals and groups were often asked to fast for a specified period, with a clearly defined beginning and end point.
Let’s now return to the state of your heart before we begin the fast. Let’s look at Isaiah 58 to see how we can consider this crucial factor.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’
“In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,Isaiah 58:3
And exploit all your laborers.
This means that people who participated in the fast did it for a specific time and a particular reason. At this point, it is possible that they were disappointed with their fast. They had set a goal for their fast, but they didn’t achieve them. Despite following the “how” of fasting, the fast did not have the intended effect.
Review the above list several times before you begin your fast. Make sure to take time to understand your motivations. Before you decide how to fast, be clear about what you are fasting for.
In conclusion, biblical fasting is a spiritual discipline beneficial for believers. When fasting, believers should focus on God and His Word, pray fervently, and seek His will. Additionally, believers should be mindful of their motives for fasting and guard against self-righteousness. Finally, those new to fasting should start slowly and gradually increase the duration of their fasting.